[A few months ago when we were back in Thailand, we had started doing Duolingo in an attempted to learn some Spanish if (for at that time we weren’t sure if we would get this far) we got to South America. I had being doing it before we left but once we got on the plane to Vietnam that was the end of it…until we got to Koh Phangan. We worked away on our respective accounts until we got to Malaysian Borneo after that it fell by the wayside, due to the pretty much non-existent internet…. we figured we would be sort of ok though…….]
Arriving here was like resetting the clock on our trip it was definitely the start of a new adventure. This time it was not up to the locals to make themselves understood, this time the onus was on us……no pressure there then.
Our flight on the 5th February at 7.20 pm to Buenos Aires with New Zealand Air was fantastic, free-flowing drink and snacks plus great entertainment as you would expect for a Star Alliance member. As a result we got very little sleep and arrived in Buenos Aires on the 5th February at 3 pm, 4 hours 20 mins before taking off into the hot (34ºC) and humid Argentine capital! Crazy! We should have taken a taxi but ended up taking the bus-this only saved us about £2 and took 2 hours plus the lady who sold us the tickets lied to us and told us we would be dropped off at our hostel. Turns out we were “too far out” so ended up walking five blocks. We arrived at our hostel (Waikiki Hostel- in a really nice colonial building above a bakery) cranky and very tired, thankfully the guy at reception spoke excellent English! Essential when you are jet lagged!
Our time in Buenos Aires was mostly dominated by horrible jetlag and also trying to sort out my issues with my Vodafone account. They have the worst customer service I have ever come across. In the end it wasn’t until a few weeks later, after I delicately raised the issue on their Facebook page that I finally got results but they still gave conflicting information to their online chat team- saying it would take 30 days to transfer to PAYG rather than the 24-48 hrs that their online teams maintained. Awful. In total it took me 6 weeks to transfer to PAYG with 12 days and no coverage.
Apart from that unpleasantness, we did however manage to see a fair bit when we were there. The Argentine capital is a vibrant city, kinda grungy, with crumbling colonial buildings at every turn. You could spend your whole time looking up at the facades (but you need to also keep one eye on where you put your feet- the pavements are littered with dog shit.)
A visit to a weekly market…
Hunted down cool graffiti..
A trip to the Argentine national museum (all in Spanish, which after the first two rooms our brains had melted from the concentration required to attempt to understand stuff. Only a few things were in English- the stuff pertaining to the Malvinas/Falklands mostly) and a trip to the more relaxing Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Plus just general walking about- we were staying about 2 km away from the action and after a few days walking up and down Av. San Juan, we opted to save our legs a bit and get the (surprisingly cheap) Subway ($5 (ARG)/$0.35/£0.24).
We also went to the famous La Boca area, we got the subway to the nearby station, Constitución, and then walk the 2 km there. I was completely relying on my Maps.me which led us into the La Boca neighbourhood. The WRONG La Boca neighbourhood. There were a lot of police around (which made Gav very nervous) and we did walk past some fairly dodgy looking guys but I stayed blindly following the map until some guy pulled up in his car at the traffic lights, spotted us and yelled at us in Spanish that we were going the wrong way, the way we were going was dangerous so watch out (at least that’s what we got from his tone and hand gestures), we thanked him and promptly turned around and went back the way we came onto the main road. Continuing across it we were once again intercepted by a lady, who started waving her finger at us saying no and pointing to the police, we told her we didn’t speak Spanish (in Spanish) and she led us up the road, talking non-stop (we hadn’t a clue what she was saying), until we reached the corner where she pointed out the correct direction. This street led us to the Boca Junior’s stadium.
We had breakfast (well it was lunch really, jetlag is evil) on a side street before we wandered round and once we had seen it all we walked back. Managing this time to cross the widest avenue in the world (its true!). It leads right to the city centre too so we crossed it quite a few times during our visit.
We were there in carnival season, so we managed to find a street party near us. It started at 9 pm and was a bit of a walk away so we figured by the time we arrived it would be in full swing, it wasn’t. We hung around for a bit and other than some music and families with beers in one hand and toddlers in the other swaying to some piped music from an empty stage there wasn’t much happening. There was a lot of kids running around with foam spraying everyone (myself included) which was kind of fun but we were not inclined to hang about waiting till all hours for something to happen so that plan was abandoned in favour of buying fruit.
Similar to Asia there are greengrocers all over the place and luckily for us they were open till all hours. We found one run by a lovely Bolivian lady who decided to engage us in conversation. [At this point we had words for food, random animals, professions and vague sentences such as what is your name? cómo te llamas? and how are you? cómo estas?] We were completely unprepared for this but had a go anyway and tried to discuss the weather in Bolivia. Only months later I realised she was wishing us good luck (buena suerte), rather than saying something about a sweater. Delayed mortification there, but hey learning a new language is tough! Also before I forget, this lady was very easy to understand but in general the Argentinian accent is really hard to understand. the “ll” which is normally pronounced “y” is pronounced “v” in Argentina. We didn’t discover this until later when we were buying our bus tickets. Oh and also not many people we met spoke English, or French (yeah this was our fall back, and we frequently looked for words in French if we didn’t have the right one in Spanish..sometimes it worked sometimes we got confusion back.)
One thing they love in Argentina (in particular) is ice-cream. Italian style gelato to be precise. On our way back we came across a man behind a wall of glass, surrounded by freezers and hatch. It was a 24 hour Ice-cream shop or gallery of dreams as it came to be known! You could get 1/4, 1/2 or 1 kg. We opted for a 1/4kg between us (yeah, yeah fat pies I know) with chocolate and dulce de leche so good. (Dulce de leche is like jam here they love it for breakfast on bread, good but very, very sweet.)
We also had to move hostel half way through the eight days we ended up staying here. But, unlike SE Asia, things book up fast and we weren’t fast enough (this is a nightmare when you want to extend and has tripped us up a few times during our travels around South America). The new place, Hotel O’Rei, had wishy washy wifi, was a bit grimy, but was right in the centre of everything. We soon got sick of the words “Cambio, cambio, cambio..” being shouted at us every time we went out. (However cambio (I change) is a very useful phrase). Plus there were touts but they are less pushy than we were used to so a “no gracias” worked like a charm and they left you alone.
There are so many cool buildings here.
During our last two days we finally started to recover from the jetlag and were making plans for our next stop, the Iguazu Falls. Due to our limited Spanish at that point we decided to get a bus pass (it was also slightly cheaper than getting the legs individually). We opted to go with South Pass– which covers a fair bit of South America- for Argentina only. At this point we had decided that there was no way we could do Patagonia, so in addition to Iguazu we opted to go to Córdoba and Mendoza before popping across the border to the Chilean Capital, Santiago. By Mendoza we figured we could probably have improved our Spanish enough to book a bus ourselves. We arranged to go to the office as it wasn’t clear from the website if we could book seats together or if it was based on cheapest seats. So we grabbed the Subway to the leafy suburb of Palermo.
After a visit to the office (and lesson on pronunciation mentioned above) we took a wander around the nearby park.
I had tried to organise a cooking class and a tango class, but they were all booked up- note to self book things in Buenos Aires in advance. What I did manage to get was through Trip Advisor (their site Viator) which was apparently a cooking class, the Argentine Experience.
We enjoyed it but it wasn’t what we expected and was overpriced hugely for what it was. Needless to say I will not be using Viator again (plus they are really overpriced, typical Trip Advisor).
On our last full day we went for Walk around San Telmo which is covered with characters from the Mafalda comic strip (I have to confess I had never heard of it, but until recently there was not many English translations so that’s probably why), it was quite fun hunting them down (though Maps.me helped a bit there).
We then continued on to Puerto Madero, which is a bit like the docklands in London.
On our last night, Buenos Aires experienced a storm and it rained insanely heavily all night, as a result we had very little sleep.
So finally it was a Saturday morning, we went looking for breakfast, almost everywhere was shut. We decided a safe option would be to go to the place we went to the previous night as their breakfast set looked quite good and we needed caffeine. So we popped in, ordered our breakfast only to be told they “no café, te con leche?”. Booo, tea was not going to cut it that morning after the poor nights sleep. Unfortunately we had to up and leave and try find somewhere else that was open. The struggle continued. We nipped down a side street, where I ended up stepping on a loose brick and spraying dirty water up my leg. We stopped in a corner and had the usual arguments that couples do while Gav grabbed me a tissue out of his bag. I cleaned the dirt off and seconds later a guy was behind us, we assumed telling us that Gav’s bag was open but it turned out he had grey crap all down his bag. The guy produced a tissue. Warning bells we ringing when he mentioned it was bird shit. This is a well-known pick pocketing technique here, one guy sprays your shoulder and the other another guy comes to help and then you are a phone and wallet lighter. It turned out it was on both our bags and Gav’s back. It was not bird poo though so we figured we were in trouble especially since some other guy appeared to help (there are often two working this scam) but then the guy with us shooed him away. Once we were a bit cleaner we headed off, Gav still had everything. I had no pockets. We were ok. We went back to the hotel to clean up further, the stuff was grey and smelt of ketchup. The next hour was spent trying to decide if it was an attempted pickpocket but in the end we decided it was probably a dodgy drainpipe (the previous night had been heavy rain) So we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the chap had good Samaritan as the people of Buenos Aires are great. Faith in humanity restored.
So recovered and fed we grabbed our bags and headed for the subway to get to the bus station.. to cut a long story short the bus station was a bit of a nightmare as the name of the station is also an area, Retiro, it covers a few blocks and the whole area around the bus station is also covered in buses. We almost got on a bus going to the Rolling Stones concert that was on (had we stayed a few more days and got a good price on tickets we might have gone to that one) but eventually someone pointed us in the direction of the station and we found our bus heading to the next stop… the Iguazu Falls (and Brazil….).